With all eyes on swimming legend Michael Phelps at the Summer Olympics in Rio this month, it seems fitting to detail what great pool lighting is all about. By Jeff Gatzow
Indoor pools are hard on lighting fixtures. The exposure to a warm and humid environment is particularly challenging, plus natatorium [translation: a building containing a swimming pool] fixtures are difficult to access, therefore maintenance must be kept to a minimum. If any fixture’s glass were to fall into the pool during maintenance, the entire pool needs to be drained — an expensive and time-consuming effort.
Life safety and accident prevention are the driving forces behind natatorium lighting. Because water is a reflector, reducing the glare from the fixtures is critical. Adequate light levels, bright illumination, and consistent uniformity are also very important. Fixtures for this application need to be at least damp location-rated, offering the highest safeguard against moisture and water treatment chemical vapors.
For that reason, indoor pools typically have direct or reflected light coming from the ceiling or surrounding walls. It is common for ceiling fixtures to be pointed up; light is then bounced off of the ceiling to the pool below. The goal is to achieve even, ambient lighting that does not blind the swimmers or cause glare while the pool is being used.
One way to address all of these issues is through the installation of LED luminaires, as the staff of Waukesha South High School Natatorium in Waukesha, Wisc., recently discovered. Opened in 1957, South High School is Waukesha’s oldest high school and today the 1,460 students use a swimming pool complex that was rebuilt in 2005, replacing a smaller and much older pool as well as spectator and locker room facilities. The current natatorium is larger than in most schools – measuring 22.8 meters x 30 meters – and the oversized perimeter accommodates nearly 2,000 spectators.
The 27,000 sq.-ft. natatorium is used extensively by the high school physical education department, the school’s swim team, and the Waukesha Express Swim Team (a competitive swim team under the guidance of professional coaches).
Assessing the Challenge
The complex was originally designed with a metal halide (MH) indirect lighting system to reflect light from the ceiling to minimize glare on the water’s surface. Over the years, the ceiling and walls darkened due to deteriorating light levels and fixtures burning out, creating a cave-like and dungeon-esque atmosphere. Since replacing the burned out fixtures was challenging, they were typically left until there were enough burned out to warrant bringing out the lift.
Tom Cherone, the master electrician for the Waukesha School District, knew the lighting system needed improving. Spectators were complaining they couldn’t see the swimmers because the lights were so dim; the low light levels were a safety issue for the lifeguards; and he was worried while conducting maintenance on the MH fixtures that if glass dropped and broke in the pool the 480,000 gallons of water would need to be drained. In addition, the MH technology requires 10 to 15 minutes of “cool down to relight,” meaning that the bulbs needed to cool down enough before they could be re-lit again, which was highly inconvenient.
Finding a Solution
Through Wisconsin-based Hein Electric Supply, which has a long-time relationship with Waukesha School District, Cherone learned about retrofitting the existing lighting system with LED high bay luminaires to improve illumination quality, safety, and security while also reducing energy costs and consumption.
In a one-for-one replacement, 42 1,000-watt MH fixtures were replaced with 240-watt LED high bay luminaires and eight 36-watt florescent tubes were retrofit with 80-watt LED high bay luminaires — all from Optec LED lighting.
“The new lights are terrific,” Cherone notes. “They strike instantly, provide more lumens than our old MH lights, will last for years, and are cost-effective. When all the fixtures are on, we’re saving an astounding 70 percent in energy over the previous MH lights.”
Since they emit far less heat than MH fixtures, the school will be able to run the air conditioning less in the summer months, further reducing the energy bill. Additional power savings are achieved from turning off the fixtures when not in use. The previous lights were left on continuously because they took so long to warm up to full brightness. These LED luminaires light immediately, eliminating the need to have them on all the time.
“At swim meets, I used to apologize to the visiting teams because it was so dark,” says Blaine Carlson, CEO/head coach of the Waukesha Express Swim Team. “Now, with these new lights, I think we can even attract additional meets to this facility.”
Cherone is so pleased with the reduction in maintenance, energy savings, and the dramatic improvement in light quality that he’s planning to replace all of the MH lights in the district schools’ pools with LED high bay luminaires.
In addition to upgrading the natatorium lighting, the district is implementing an exterior lighting program for the schools’ parking lots; saving the district more money and, most importantly, improving security through better light levels.